Summary: Today Martin van Creveld examines one of the great oddities of our time — our persistent and absurdly unjustified faith in the power of airpower to defeat 4th generation foes. Future historians will marvel at our inability to learn from experience, of which this is just one example.
By Martin van Creveld
From his website, 1 October 2015
Posted with his generous permission
For over a year now, the US armed forces have been fighting The Monster. AKA ISIS, AKA DAESH, AKA one of the most ferocious band of cut-throats the world has ever seen. Joining President Assad’s Army, who is the only one with the necessary guts, as of this writing Turkish, Russian, and French forces have all entered the fray. So, in less direct ways, have some 60 other countries. As the growing list of belligerents indicates, without too much success. Fearing casualties, officially at any rate none of the above mentioned interventionist forces have deployed boots on the ground. They prefer to rely on air strikes instead.
So just to remind those of you who may have forgotten, here is a short list of some of the things airborne devices, regardless of whether they are or are not manned, fly high or low or circle the earth in the manner of satellites, can not do:
- The cost-benefit relationship of airborne devices means they have difficulty coping with a widely dispersed enemy. In plain words: one cannot send an F-16 or a Predator after every terrorist, real or, much less, suspected.
- Airborne devices cannot take prisoners and interrogate people. In other words obtain HUMINT from both enemy combatants and the civilian population.
- Airborne devices cannot look inside houses and other buildings which terrorists/guerrillas/insurgents use to hide, plan their operations, store weapons, recuperate, and so on.
- Airborne devices, owing to their inability to look inside, cannot normally block transportation arteries except by shooting up everything that moves on them. In other words, they cannot do so in a discriminating manner; it is either/or.
- Airborne devices cannot occupy territory and hold it. To quote a World War I saying which still holds true in many cases: They come from the devil knows where; drop bombs on the devil knows what; and disappear to the devil knows where.